Last-minute name change is the ultimate humiliation for aging cars

Chevrolet Joy Plus

Names are extremely important for cars. At first, they locate the model’s position in the lineup and/or the moment the automaker is living. Later on, they gradually concentrate the values that mark the model’s interaction with people, whether good or bad. In the end, a car name becomes strong when it symbolizes what the model represents for its maker and its buyers. That’s a first step to understand how serious this topic can be in a car project.

Naming a new car is difficult because automakers never want to lose. Using a new name sends a message about renovation and surprise, but also creates a sense of uncertainty. On the other hand, preserving the old name may be safe and predictable, but also yields huge expectations. If only there was a way to get the best of both… Well, rest assured that makers are incessantly searching it. So incessantly that some don’t seem to be thinking all the way through.

Left: Peugeot 206+. Right: Chevrolet Classic

Right after releasing the all-new Onix and Onix Plus (hatchback and sedan) in Brazil, Chevrolet renamed the outgoing models as Joy and Joy Plus so as to keep selling them as cheaper options. Nissan did the same only a few weeks earlier with the Versa in Mexico — the old model became V-Drive. Now, if you think this is a recent trend among automakers, there are some examples from several origins and times you should definitely learn about.

The 2010 Chevrolet Classic (Argentina) and the 2009 Peugeot 206+ (France) are cases where the maker bothered to facelift the car before sending it off to the entry-level afterlife. The 2010 Ford Fiesta Rocam (Brazil) and the 2012 Renault Clio Mercosur (Argentina) only received surnames as an attempt to make their transition smoother. Finally, the 2016 Fiat Weekend (Brazil) and the 2011 Volkswagen Clasico (Mexico) were repurposed high and dry.

Left: Ford Fiesta Rocam. Right: Renault Clio Mercosur

It’s easy to understand the maker’s train of thought. The strong name should go to the new model, which is full of novelties, frequently costs more and, as a consequence, must appeal to wealthier customers. The aging one, in turn, is supposed to survive focused on value, so it’s no longer necessary to work hard on its image. Setting them apart is interesting because it preserves the name’s prestige and concentrates it on the model which needs it the most.

On the other hand, it’s hard to understand why on Earth do automakers think people would go along with all that. Anyone who sees Chevrolet’s or Nissan’s sedans will initially think of their original names (Prisma and Versa) because they’ve been used for years; habits don’t change quickly. What will actually happen is people saying “Prism… no, Joy Plus” followed by an expression of sarcasm. Do automakers really think that’s desirable for any car model?

Left: Fiat Weekend. Right: Volkswagen Clasico

How else could they solve this problem, then?

Frankly, the best way would be to abolish this strategy altogether. Entry-level customers are no worse than any other, so they shouldn’t be offered cars that indirectly label them as poor. Since that’s financially difficult for automakers to avoid, it can be interesting to invest in models of several price ranges that can be fully replaced once their successors arrive. Recent technologies such as that of modular platforms are very helpful to make all that affordable.

In cases where that’s absolutely impossible to execute, coming clean with the people will do. A short and honest “Classic” surname (or any other like that), without removing the original name, will send the intended message while keeping the backlash to a minimum. If you know any other examples of cars like those mentioned here, whether global or exclusive from your country, feel free to leave a comment sharing what you know about them!

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Danillo Almeida

Danillo Almeida

Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.